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Sea Otter Pup Conceived in Wild is First to be Born in Captivity

Jan 24, 2015 11:22 AM EST

For the first time ever, a sea otter pup conceived in the wild was born in captivity, according to researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), giving them a rare look at otter motherhood.

The rare birth happened a while back, on Nov. 26, at the university's Long Marine Laboratory, but researchers decided to keep it under wraps and not publicize the pup until now to limit its exposure to people. This way, unlike its mother Clara, it doesn't develop an attraction to humans, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.

Researchers plan to release the nameless pup, whose gender still remains unknown, back into the wild this summer.

In the meantime, the UCSC team is monitoring the otter mom, paying special attention to her caloric needs as she nurses.

That's because the demands of sea otter motherhood can prove costly. In what's called end-lactation syndrome, sea otter moms work so hard to provide for their pups that they zap themselves of all energy and cannot survive the stress of a even minor wound or infection. Sea otters already have high caloric needs - they require a quarter of their body weight in food each day - so adding nursing into the mix is a recipe for disaster.

"End-lactation syndrome makes them more susceptible to something else, that ultimately puts the nail in the coffin," Nicole Thometz, a UCSC postdoctoral researcher, told the Sentinel.

But this new otter pup may help researchers better understand this fatal syndrome, which is found especially in animals living along the Central Coast.

Southern sea otters are currently listed as threatened after unchecked hunting reduced depleted populations to about 50 in the 1930s. Now they number around 3,000 individuals off the California coast, which puts them just under the cusp of being removed from the threatened species list.

And this newest pup may contribute to the growth of its species in the wild.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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